- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, bolstered by U.S. support for Israel’s bombing raid in Syria, yesterday said his nation won’t hesitate to attack its enemies anywhere — heightening concerns it may widen the Palestinian conflict by again striking countries it accuses of harboring terrorists.

Since the attack on the reputed Islamic Jihad training camp in Syria on Sunday, the regional conflict has already escalated with shooting and mortar fire across the border between Israel and Lebanon, where Syria is the main power broker.

An Israeli staff sergeant who also held U.S. citizenship was killed Monday in a shooting Israel blamed on Hezbollah, the Shi’ite Muslim guerrilla group that is backed by Syria and predominantly Shi’ite Iran. The Israeli military said it raised its state of readiness on the Lebanese border yesterday because of the increased tension.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the new Palestinian Cabinet ran into its first hitch while being sworn in yesterday. The man slated to oversee security refused to take the oath in what officials called a turf struggle with Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Sharon’s vow to pursue militants anywhere also came after Israel accused Syria and Iran of providing key backing to Islamic Jihad, the militant group that took responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 19 persons in the Israeli port city of Haifa on Saturday.

“Israel will not be deterred from protecting its citizens and will strike its enemies in every place and in every way,” Mr. Sharon said, emphasizing that Israel must prepare “as if the next war is waiting just around the corner.”

“We are not immune to surprises,” he said at a memorial service for Israeli soldiers killed during the 1973 Middle East war with Syria and Egypt. “Only if we are forever ready will we reach peace, and we will reach it.”

President Bush yesterday said the Israeli air strike — the first Israeli attack deep into Syria in three decades — was part of an “essential” campaign to defend the country, and drew a parallel between Mr. Sharon’s actions and U.S. policy on terrorism.

“The decisions he makes to defend [Israels] people are valid decisions,” Mr. Bush said. “We would be doing the same thing.”

But Mr. Bush’s supportive remarks came with a note of caution that Mr. Sharon should be wary of creating “the conditions necessary for” more violence and “fully understand the consequences of any decision.”

Syria has denied having any Islamic Jihad bases, and President Bashar Assad said the raid was an Israeli attempt to provoke war.

“There is no doubt that the role Syria plays in the various issues in our region is painful to this [Israeli] government. What happened [on Sunday] was a failed Israeli attempt to undercut this role,” Mr. Assad said, according to a report yesterday in the London-based newspaper, Al Hayat.

Israeli media reports have suggested that more attacks on militants’ bases in Syria could follow.

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday the security Cabinet decided at a meeting Aug. 19 — after a Hamas bus bombing that killed 23 persons — to target the camp in Syria, but postponed the air strike for operational reasons.

In the renewed tension on the Lebanon border, Israeli Staff Sgt. David Solomonov, 21, was killed Monday in the shooting Israel blamed on Hezbollah. The militant group denied involvement.

Sgt. Solomonov, from the town of Kfar Saba, emigrated to Israel with his parents 13 years ago from Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. consulate.

In Ramallah, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his Palestinian Cabinet were sworn in yesterday. Mr. Arafat appointed Mr. Qureia and the other Cabinet members by decree Sunday, circumventing the legislature in an apparent bid to block Israeli action against the Palestinian leader in response to Saturday’s suicide bombing.

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